215 million U.S. adults watched the solar eclipse

People watch the first solar eclipse to sweep across the United States in over 99 years on the beach August 21, 2017 on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Eighty-eight percent of American adults viewed the August total solar eclipse directly or electronically. The audience of 215 million adults is nearly twice the size of the viewership of recent Super Bowl football games.

A national study of American adults found that 154 million American adults watched the eclipse directly, using a combination of solar glasses designed to allow the direct viewing of the sun and various other devices—pin-hole viewers, for example.

On a 0-to-10 scale, adults gave the viewing experience a score of 7.6 for being enjoyable and 7.0 for being educational.

Approximately 20 million adults traveled from their home area to another area to be able to watch the solar eclipse, usually seeking a higher degree of totality.

“This level of public interest and engagement with a science-oriented event is unparalleled,” says Jon Miller, director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

This is the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse to occur in nearly a century and because of the wide availability of television, the internet, and smartphones, most adults were aware it was happening. An additional 61 million people watched the eclipse electronically.

The survey—conducted under a cooperative agreement with NASA—beginning on the evening of the eclipse and continuing for a week after it—found that most adults viewed the eclipse with their family, friends, or coworkers. Only 3 percent viewed the eclipse as a part of an organized group.

Lots of people shared the eclipse, too: One in three viewers took pictures or a video of the events and about half of those adults reported that they shared their pictures with others using social media, email, and other electronic means.

Most adults who viewed the eclipse found it to be both enjoyable and educational. On a zero-to-10 scale, adults gave the viewing experience a score of 7.6 for being enjoyable and 7.0 for being educational.

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The 2017 Michigan Scientific Literacy Study is based on a national probability sample of US households from a US Postal Service listing of all occupied households.

The data come from AmeriSpeak, a panel service that the National Opinion Research Center operates at the University of Chicago. The February-March survey included online and telephone interviews with 2,834 adults age 18 and older, and 2,211 of the same adults responded to a follow-up survey in August immediately after the eclipse.

This is an initial report about the number of adults who viewed the eclipse and how they prepared for it, Miller says.

A final follow-up survey of the same adults will be conducted in October and November of 2017 to assess how viewing the eclipse may have stimulated viewers to seek additional information about eclipses, the sun, the solar system, and related astronomical information.

Source: University of Michigan